Simon and Schuster
July 22, 2014 at 02:50 PM EDT

Thomas Berger, the author of 20 books in a wide range of genres, including the western epic Little Big Man, has died. He was 89.

Published in 1964, Little Big Man tells the tale of Jack Crabb, a character narrating the story of his life at age 111. Crabb was adopted by a Native American tribe after his white settler family was killed, and grows up to meet legendary figures of the wild west. The book was adapted into a movie by Arthur Penn in 1970, starring Dustin Hoffman.

Throughout his career, Berger worked in a wide variety of genres and approached other famous books from different angles. Robert Crews was a survival story in the vein of Robinson CrusoeAdventures of the Artificial Woman was science-fiction, Killing Time was a horror novel, and his four “Reinhart” books were semi-autobiographical.

Berger has been called a recluse, and rarely gave interviews, but he formed a longtime friendship with Time film critic and journalist Richard Schickel. In a 1980 interview with Schickel, published in The New York Times, he shared his thoughts on writing. “Why does one write? Because it isn’t there! Unlike Everest and other celebrated eminences. Beginners sometime ask me how a novel is written, the answer to which is: Any way at all. One knows only when it is finished, and then if one is at all serious, he will never do it the same way again.”

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